Animal Farm by George Orwell, first published in 1945 by Secker & Warburg, is 116 pages long.
The 1972 printing (Penguin Modern Classics, 14 000838 1) was used for this review.
Animal Farm presents a narrative on the social dynamic following a revolution. The author uses animals as placeholders for the successful revolutionaries. The main characters Napoleon and Snowball (two pigs) and Boxer (a farm horse), are respectively opportunist, idealist and martyr (someone comfortable with the notion of self-sacrifice).
After the revolution, the revolutionaries become responsible for organising the means of production. Against this backdrop, new relationships are forged which, although essential to the proper management of organised activity, place severe strains on the original ideals of the revolution.
As the tale progresses, the animal revolutionaries face various challenges which portray how circumstances help to crystallize working relationships. These relationships are described in terminology that would be familiar to the working classes and socialist intelligentsia of the time eg “60 hour week”, “master”, “slave”.
Some attempt is made to contrast the impracticality of dreamers with the pragmatism of the opportunists. Eventually the pace is forced by the latter who, noting the accidental crystallisation of roles, take steps to accelerate this process.
The animals face many problems. Rather than articulate the issue in a logical fashion – lack of preparation – Orwell uses the problems faced by the animals to advance social interaction. This doesn’t detract from its interest as a polemic on the tendency for revolution to be stolen by “internal revolutionaries”; i.e. those with both inclination and manipulative aptitude.
Although not emotive, the book explores the theme of self-sacrifice in support of the revolution; the rewards of self sacrifice are noted with a touch of irony.
Animal Farm isn’t without flaw; an essential part of organised activity is adequate preparation. Orwell fails to dwell upon this, preferring to use the problems and obstacles as a device to advance polemic. This oversight leaves parts of the narrative unbalanced, which may well have been his intent. The story heralds Orwell’s disillusionment with the agendas of the various socialist movements of that time. Contrast this with what was then known of the Soviet Union.
Works of this ilk (e.g. Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Trial) are social documentaries that also serve us as markers. They warn of the dangers of authoritarianism and the opportunities afforded to humanity’s darker side.
George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair. He was born in India in 1903, was educated at Eton, served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma 1922 – 1928, and spent two years in Paris before coming to England as a school teacher. He died aged 47. Animal Farm was written after Orwell’s personal experience in the Spanish civil war, at a time when the realities of life in the Soviet Union were becoming evident. This work was seen as a satire on revolution, dictatorship and communism by reviewers of the time.